A recent episode of the popular Arabic show al-Sharia wa al-Haya (Law and Life), which airs weekly on Al Jazeera and features renowned Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, addressed the important yet little known Muslim concept of taysir (pronounced "tey-seer").
Qaradawi, who is touted by the likes of John Esposito and CAIR as a "moderate" — even as he legitimizes suicide attacks against Israel (including by women) and death for apostates — explained that, according to fiqh al-taysir (the "jurisprudence of ease"), Islam (not unlike Catholicism) offers Muslims dispensations, whenever needed: "For Allah desires ease for you, not hardship" (Koran 2:185; see also 5:6, 4:26-28, 2:286). For instance, Muslims traveling during the month of Ramadan or engaged in jihad need not observe the obligatory fast.
Qaradawi stressed that no one advocated taking the "easy way" as much as Muhammad himself. He offered several examples, including how Muhammad would be angry with prayer leaders who tired the people with long prayers. (Other less flattering though applicable anecdotes concerning Muhammad's "leniency" come to mind, such as when his followers thought they had to practice coitus interruptus while raping their captive women so as not to impregnate them, only to be told by the prophet that "There is no harm if you do not practice it, for it [the birth of the child] is something ordained [by Allah]").
Lest it be abused, Qaradawi warned that taysir should only be used as needed, based on the vicissitudes of time and chance. In other words, Muslims should not actively seek the easy way, but rather, when uncontrollable circumstances create hardships, Muslims are free to opt for the easy way — as long as they recognize that the "hard way" (i.e., total implementation of Sharia) is the ideal way.
Qaradawi proudly contrasted taysir with the practices of Jews and Christians who "took things to the extreme, and thus were treated extremely." After quoting the verse, "Ask not about matters which, if made known to you, may make things difficult for you" (Koran 5:105), Qaradawi said Allah made things difficult for the "anal" Jews because they always insisted on receiving specific details for his otherwise simple commandments. As for Christians, Qaradawi, in dismay, pointed to monks and anchorites, who, by shunning all female contact, and living in absolute solitude and austerity, also went to the extreme.
The most significant point of the program came when Qaradawi said that taysir is especially needed in "this era" and "especially for those Muslim minorities living in Europe and America."
Now, why is that? For starters, by migrating to the West of their own free will, Muslims themselves — not "uncontrollable circumstances" — create this apparent need for taysir. Moreover, Western religious freedom allows Muslims to uphold Islam's fundamental Five Pillars: Muslims can proclaim the shahada (profession of faith), pray, fast, give zakat (except to terrorists), and go on the hajj. So what, exactly, is Sheikh Qaradawi referring to that makes living in the West especially hard on Muslims?
The answer is obvious: Qaradawi is referring to those other aspects of Sharia law — you know, subjugation of non-Muslim infidels, absolute authority over women, jihad, draconian punishments, and all the rest —that do create "hardships" for Muslims who try to implement them in the West, for instance, by getting them arrested and imprisoned.
In other words, far from "liberalizing" Muslim life, taysir allows only for insincere conformity. As Qaradawi made clear, to practice taysir is not to renounce Sharia's otherwise harsh obligations; it is to put them on hold till circumstances are more accommodating.
Qaradawi's Muslim Brotherhood colleague, Tariq Ramadan, provides an ideal example: he recommends that a "moratorium" — a temporary ban — be placed on the Muslim practice of stoning adulterers to death; yet he refuses to say that stoning is intrinsically un-Islamic. This, of course, is taysir in practice: because stoning people in the West is liable to get the stoner incarcerated or worse, upholding the Sharia mandate to stone adulterers is "hard" on Muslims living in the West, so best to put it on hold — that is, till circumstances are more opportune.
A final observation: the notorious doctrine of taqiyya, which permits Muslims to deceive non-Muslims, is rooted in taysir; in fact, one of the few books devoted to the topic, al-Taqiyya fi al-Islam, spends some time rationalizing taqiyya in light of taysir. And there it is: when Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, perhaps the most authoritative Muslim voice in Sunni Islam today, calls on Muslims "especially in Europe and America" to practice taysir, he is, in essence, calling on them to practice taqiyya — calling on them to conform outwardly to Western standards while inwardly maintaining loyalty to Sharia.